Donald Trump and Ted Cruz forge an unlikely 'bromance'
At some point this campaign season Donald Trump has feuded with virtually every candidate in the Republican presidential field. Every candidate, that is, except Ted Cruz.
Instead the arch-conservative Texas senator and the brash New York billionaire appear to be forging an unconventional entente.
"Well, it is a little bit of a romance," Trump acknowledged during a recent interview. "I like him. He likes me."
The senator, Trump said, backed him 100% when he condemned illegal immigration. "I always respected that," he added. "I thought that was very nice."
As for Cruz, he explained to reporters why he sees Trump differently than others in the presidential race.
"A lot of the other candidates have gone out of their way to smack him with a two-by-four, said some really nasty, vicious things," Cruz said. "I've sung his praises. He's bold, he's brash, and I think the support he's gaining right now in the polls is because people are looking for someone willing to stand up to Washington."
According to Politico, the two men have had private meetings for several years, exchanging political advice and insight before and after they became announced candidates.
Now, the seeds of that relationship have flowered into an alliance that has left political pundits and prognosticators guessing as to the motivation of the actors and who, in the end, will benefit the most. Trump currently stands atop virtually every national and state-level poll, while Cruz is solidly in the middle of the pack.
"On some level, it must kill Cruz to play understudy to the cartoonish tycoon," the Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes. "But Cruz is a brilliant opportunist, and his courtship of Trump makes sense. If Trump falters in his bid for the nomination - as most still expect - Cruz will be well positioned to secure Trump's endorsement, and his supporters."
On the flip side, Milbank contends, by associating with the Texas senator Trump helps burnish his sometimes spotty conservative bona fides.
This "conservative bromance", in the words of the Daily Beast's Tim Mak, was on full display at a rally against the Iran nuclear deal on the grounds of the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday.
Mr Cruz - one of the most outspoken opponents of the agreement in Congress - asked Trump to join him at the event, even though the two candidates differ somewhat on how they'd handle the deal once they assumed the top job. Mr Cruz wants to rip it "to shreds" on the first day of his presidency, while self-professed expert dealmaker Trump would bring Iran back to the negotiating table.
Such differences appeared to matter little, however, as the candidates embraced on the stage between their speeches.
The affinity between the two men seemed to spill over to the rally's audience of several thousand, as well.
"I think Donald Trump echoes Ted Cruz," said Kathleen Crosby, a Cruz supporter who travelled to the event from Aiken, South Carolina. "He says all the things that Ted Cruz has been saying for years. The media have latched on to his celebrity status, and it's getting Ted Cruz's message out there."
Amy Waychoff of Bethesda, Maryland, agreed that Trump is helping to advance the issues that she - and other Cruz backers - care about.
"If not for Trump, such a big personality in the United States, we wouldn't have the attention on the number one issue of immigration," she said. "I don't know what's really going on in the back rooms between Cruz and Trump, we'll just see how it goes."
John Justice of Conroe, Texas, had no such qualms about the Trump-Cruz alliance.
"It's never been done before, I don't believe," he said. "Two candidates, tag-teaming. I think it would be a good ticket."
He said Trump is a winner, and Cruz "says what he will do and he does it - he backs it up".
Although Cruz supporters appeared to outnumber Trump backers among the crowd, a souvenir vendor said Trump buttons were his best-seller - and what the New Yorker lacked in numbers he made up for in sheer size of signage.
Toward the back of the Capitol lawn, Jim McDonald helped hoist a Trump banner that dwarfed everything else at the rally.
McDonald said that Trump's outspoken views on illegal immigration are what drew him to the candidate, but he likes that the Texas senator has his man's back.
"I think Ted is pretty solid," he said. "I think he's been pretty honest about the immigration issue, really. You immediately get attacked by the left-wing commie-type guys if you speak the truth on immigration."
While Washington pundits like the Post's Milbank have speculated on short-term political effectiveness of Cruz's strategy - Will Trump stumble? Will Cruz be the beneficiary? - one of McDonald's comments shed light on what may be the Texas senator's long game.
"We've been favourable of Cruz for quite a while," he said. "He's a very young guy, he's going to be around. He's very smart and articulate. I give him credit."
If his presidential bid falls short, this will likely not be the 44-year-old Texan's only try for the prize. And the next time around - with Trump's erstwhile supporters by his side - he may end up being the man to beat.